FAQ for Guests
A short Hindu wedding ceremony
Traditional Hindu wedding ceremonies can last for days and involve
much ritual in Sanskrit which may be understood only by the
priest conducting the service. This ceremony is considerably shorter
and is intended to be understandable even to a non-Indian audience,
making it suitable for intercultural or mixed Hindu/non-Hindu marriages.
The couple for whom it was originally written based it on the
Gujarati Brahmin traditions of the bride's
family with a few touches from Unitarian and secular wedding
services familiar to the groom's family. It includes three spots to insert optional
readings and musical performances of your choosing.
The priest in this ceremony need not be formally trained as a Hindu
priest. He or she should be familiar with Hindu weddings and
comfortable acting as a master of ceremonies, guiding the participants
through their parts and explaining the meaning of the service to the
audience. It's okay if the priest keeps the script in hand during the
- Priest (who in this ceremony also serves as the MC)
- Bride's parents
- Groom's parents
- Bride's maternal uncle (maamaa)
- Bride's brother (or cousin or male friend)
- Best man
- Chorus: a few women who know how to sing traditional Indian slokas
- Flower girls (optional)
Hindu weddings are supposed to take place outside, on the earth, under
a canopy known as a mandap. If that's not possible, you
can build a mandap inside and pretend you're outdoors.
Seating under the mandap can be on the ground (carpets or mats would be
a good idea) or on chairs.
Front and center under the mandap is the sacred fire. The fire can be small
and confined to a brazier or dish for safety.
The groom's party is supposed to arrive at the wedding spot in a
procession, so it's good to have a convenient assembly location
- Garlands to be exchanged by bride and groom
- Rings to be exchanged by bride and groom
- Wedding necklace (mangalsutra)
- Gift from groom to bride's brother
- Gift from bride's mother to groom
- Sacred fire
- Sacred rope (varamala), tied in a loop large enough to
go easily around bride and groom
- Pots of water for washing hands and feet
- Kumkum or red paste applied to forehead
Traditionally, the bride wears a red or red and white sari. The sari
should be draped modestly over her hair. The groom wears a kafni
(long shirt extending to the knees) with pijamo (leggings) or dhoti
(sort of an overgrown loincloth). The groom might also wear a turban.
Of course, in an adapted
ceremony like this one great liberties can be taken with wardrobe.
One rule which shouldn't be broken is that anyone who enters the mandap
or wedding canopy must have on sandals or slip-on shoes which can be easily
removed (no shoes in the mandap!). In addition, it's a good idea to
avoid much black.
One feature of the bride's wardrobe which has become popular abroad
is the use of henna or mehndi to decorate her hands and feet.
It's said that you can tell how well a new bride is being treated by
her in-laws from how long it takes for the mehndi to wear off.
Mehndi treatments are increasingly available in salons or you can get
mehndi mix at any Indian grocery store for a do-it-yourself job.
(But be sure to practice on paper first! Mehndi doesn't wash off.)
- Groom's party assembles a few minutes before scheduled ceremony
time at a convenient spot near ceremony location. (E.g., a neighbor's
house or a parking lot around the corner.) Older members of the party
may go on to the ceremony location to be seated. Groom is
holding a coconut and bride's garland.
- Groom's party walks in a procession to ceremony location. (For
extra credit, groom rides on a horse or better yet an elephant!) Groom
is received by bride's mother who applies kumkum to his forehead.
Groom bows to bride's mother and gives her coconut.
- Bride's parents escort groom and best man to the mandap. Groom's
party is seated nearby.
- After groom is in position in the mandap, bride comes out carrying
groom's garland, escorted by maternal uncle, optionally preceded by
- Priest says:
We have come together to wed (bride), daughter of (bride's
parents), to (groom), son of (groom's parents).
Today they build together the foundation of their
marriage upon the earth, in the presence of the sacred fire and the
radiant sun, among their family and friends.
- Bride and groom are seated facing one another under the mandap.
Chorus sings the slokas:
- Invocation to Lord Ganesha: Vignesh varaia varadaia sukhapriyaya...
- Invocation to Saraswati: Yakundendutusharahara dhawala...
- Prayer for harmony: Om sahana vavatu...
- Bride garlands groom. Groom garlands bride.
- Reading #1.
- Bride's parents wash bride's and groom's hands and feet, apply
kumkum and give flowers. (Bride's mother does this to bride, bride's
father to groom.)
- Bride's parents address audience:
I, (name), son/daughter of (grandparents' names), approve
the wedding of my daughter, (bride's name), to (groom's
- Groom says:
I, (groom's name), take you, (bride's name), into my heart
as my wife.
I, (bride's name), take you, (groom's name), into my heart
as my husband.
- Priest says:
A circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the
universe. It is a symbol of holiness and of perfection and of peace.
In these rings it is the symbol of unity, in which your lives are now
joined in one unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will
always return to one another and to your togetherness.
Bride and groom exchange rings.
- Priest puts varamala (sacred rope) around bride's and groom's
necks. They're now married!
- The couple, who had been sitting facing one another, now sit down side by side.
Bride's father puts bride's hand in
- Song or musical performance.
(Traditionally this is the time
to sing a mangalashtak, a poem composed specially for the occasion.)
- Bride cups her hands and places them in groom's cupped hands.
puts rice in bride's hands. Together bride and groom
pour the mixture into the fire.
- Bride and groom walk around the fire four times, alternating in who leads. Priest says:
With the first turn, we pray for happiness in the union of the couple.
With the second turn, we pray for the long life of the couple.
With the third turn, we pray for the healthy life of the couple.
With the fourth turn, we pray for the happiness and health of the couple.
- The bride and groom sit down. (Here's a fun part: whoever sits down first will be the boss in the marriage!)
Groom presents a gift to the bride's brother.
- Priest says:
Now is the time to confirm the marriage with the seven final steps.
Bride and groom rise and prepare to take seven steps.
I ask you, (bride) and (groom), to concentrate upon these seven vows as you take the seven steps:
- May the couple be blessed with an abundance of food.
- May the couple be strong and complement one another.
- May the couple be blessed with prosperity.
- May the couple be eternally happy.
- May the couple be blessed with children.
Idea: one "blended family" we know of changed this to "May the couple be blessed with obedient children." :-)
- May the couple live in perfect harmony.
- May (bride) and (groom) always be the best of friends.
- Optional step to shock the traditional Hindus: bride and groom steal a kiss!
- Bride and groom feed each other sweets four times. Bride's mother
gives groom a gift. Groom's mother comes to the mandap and puts the
mangalsutra necklace around the bride's neck.
- Reading #2.
- Chorus sings the sloka:
...as bride and groom bow to all their seniors in both parties in rough order according to age (eldest first).
- Blessing for Everlasting Love: Advaitam...
- Adjourn to refreshments and photo ops. Mob scene ensues!
Appendix: FAQ for guests at a Hindu wedding
Q: I've been invited to a Hindu wedding. What should I wear?
A: Wear what you would wear to a non-Indian wedding. The only clothing taboo to be aware of is that you must take your shoes off to enter a temple or the wedding canopy, so be prepared to leave them at the door. Do try to make some allowances for comfort -- it's not uncommon for seating to be on the ground, so a tight suit or dress that doesn't let you sit cross-legged might not be the best choice.
Of course, if you're the adventurous type and want to wear traditional Indian clothes, go for it! Very likely there'll be a friend or cousin your size who'd be delighted to loan you some clothes and show you how to wear them. Women guests may even get the chance for an application of henna or mehndi if they're around the day before the wedding.
But don't rely on the bride or groom to help you themselves -- they'll be way too busy on the day of the event.
Q: My Hindu friends are getting married. What sort of gift should I give?
A: The traditional gift at an Indian wedding is money. The amount should be an "auspicious" number ending in 1 -- $11, $21, $51, $101, $201, $501, etc. (or similar numbers in rupees, pounds, or what have you). Cash or a check is fine.
However, outside of India most Indian couples understand that giving money can be considered tacky and they don't expect it from their non-Indian friends. They've embraced the western tradition of giving housewares as gifts and many couples register at department stores. So the better answer is: give what you would give at a non-Hindu wedding.
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Copyright 2001 Prentiss Riddle. Permission is given for non-profit use. Credit or a link back to this page would be appreciated.
Ganesh graphic thanks to Aikya Param. Photo by PJR.